Random Musings: Wanders in Wales

There won’t be the usual number of book reviews on my blog in the second half of this month as I have several trips away from home planned. This weekend I am heading north, to Appleby for some walking and then on to Edinburgh to clear elder son’s uni accommodation for the summer. Earlier this week I was on an unexpected short break. Husband is between contracts and my head has been all over the place so I was grateful when he whisked me away to Wales. I was kept so busy, in the best possible way, that I didn’t find time to read even a single page of the books I had brought. Thus I am behind on my reading but feeling much more settled in myself.

Wales was quite the adventure. Wall to wall sunshine meant we could plan long walks involving many ascents – exercise is my way of finding balance when life proves wobbly. Here are just a few of the more memorable moments from the trip, along with some pictures from what turned out to be rather special accommodation.

Day 1

After a challenging climb to a summit – worth it for the views – we set off for our hotel. We do not own a Sat Nav so use Google Maps for real time directions. Reasons unknown, the app decided we were not staying in a hotel but rather on a working farm, accessed by the sort of narrow tracks where you can only hope you don’t meet another vehicle. We were travelling in my husbands shiny two-seater which he enjoyed driving along the many winding Welsh roads. It is not so much fun when sent off piste. When we eventually drove past the farm entrance, Google advised a 3-point turn before the track became footpath. We spotted a gate and hoped for sufficient traction from the packed mud entrance.

Day 2

After the previous day’s navigation debacle we set off on foot from our hotel. Following a footpath through numerous fields we encountered a ruin that husband paused to photograph. I noticed a group of mixed cattle eyeing us. I am very afraid of cattle – the bane of many walks. A few of the youngsters started to move in our direction. Others followed. The whole herd then started to stampede towards the open gate that separated their field from ours. Now moving swiftly we passed through the gate into the next field on our route. The herd paused, watching, and then continued at speed along the boundary. I had no idea if they knew of a way through but it was clear they wished to reach us. I covered three fields of steep ascent at an impressive rate.

On reaching the boundary of farmland and moor we spotted the monument marking the start of the trail we planned to walk. There was a sign on the other side of the gate informing us that this area is an artillery training ground and entry is strictly forbidden without permission. The sign informed us that military debris, if touched, may explode and kill you. We heard firing in the distance.

While I balanced the dangers in my head – trampled by cattle if we turned back or risk of death by exploding military debris if we continued – husband contemplated different words on the sign: ‘without permission’. He phoned the MOD. Having given our location and proposed route we were assured the live firing was not in our area and we could safely proceed. We walked a pleasant, scenic trail along moorland ridge to the soundtrack of bleating sheep and exploding shells.

Day 3

After the previous day’s encounter with cattle we planned a route that took us up onto the moor via tracks and hedged in footpaths, returning via tracks and quiet lanes. The moor, however, proved more challenging to navigate. Each marker we aimed for – a trig point, lake, stream to descend by – was criss-crossed by sheep tracks rather than obvious paths. Being moorland, sections were boggy and impassable.

We took several wrong turns and had to climb up to find the correct direction. Wiltshire, where I normally walk, did not provide the training for these repeated ascents. When we eventually found our way off the moor it was with a grand sense of achievement – just what my head needed.

R&R

I mentioned our special accommodation. Husband found Lake Country House Hotel via a last minute offer on Secret Escapes. After a day’s walking it was lovely to relax with a stroll through the extensive grounds abutting river and woodland before a cooling swim in the pool. Refreshing drinks were imbibed followed by dinners as good as we’ve eaten anywhere. It is a place we hope to return to one day.

 

We were in a Lodge Suite, located in a separate building beside the main hotel. Our room was enormous – far bigger than we needed given the fine weather. Little touches such as fresh fruit, shortbread rounds and a good variety of teas were appreciated.

   

 

There were also books for those who forget to pack any. I wished I had thought to bring some titles I have finished with to add to this collection.

Memorable adventures require moments of crisis to add interest to recollections. I could have done without the encounter with stampeding cattle but the rest of our trip was a blast; thankfully not literally.

If interested in further photos (I know, but someone may), check out my Instagram here: neverimitate.

A City Break in Edinburgh

My elder son is currently a student at Edinburgh University. We drove him and the essential equipment that all students seem to need to his halls in September, staying a couple of nights in a hotel to make the long journey from Wiltshire more worthwhile. There was so much to see we determined to return and enjoy it fully as tourists. Thus, on Friday of last week, we boarded an early morning flight which took us north of the wall.

img_20161118_085851761

Starting our break with an airport breakfast

The hotel we selected, Ten Hill Place, is owned by the Royal College of Surgeons and uses profits to train surgeons worldwide. It is situated close to many of the university buildings and within easy walking distance of the Royal Mile. It proved an excellent choice.

img_20161118_130441045   img_20161118_130506820

A comfortable base

img_20161118_202246324   img_20161118_212541241

Tasty food in the No. Ten Restaurant

I was delighted to find a lovely bookshop just around the corner. Blackwell Edinburgh is well worth a visit.

img_20161118_141303954   img_20161118_141354125

With window displays such as this how could any book lover resist?

The weather started off cold and clear so we climbed both Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat to enjoy the views. The former is an easy ascent and provides a number of interesting constructions to admire. The latter proved more challenging. We tackled it on a frosty morning and the stone pathways were very slippery underfoot. I was grateful for my husband’s assistance in reaching the summit and then making our way back down.

img_20161118_153246299_hdr   img_20161118_153547437

Calton Hill

img_20161119_111454086   img_20161119_111509315

Arthur’s Seat 

The weather then turned dull and bitterly cold so we enjoyed some of the many indoor attractions offered around the Royal Mile. Having toured the wonderful castle on our previous visit we opted for Holyrood Palace this time around. The castle was better value, although we did enjoy our stroll through the palace gardens. For the cost of entrance there just weren’t enough rooms open inside, and all seemed too structured, impersonal and lacking in atmosphere. I suspect my lack of interest in the royal family, other than as historical figures, may be a factor in this assessment. I could not relate to the unctious tone of the guide.

img_20161120_110409508_hdr

The ruined abbey and gardens were of more interest than the house

There are a large number of places to visit in the city centre, many of which are free of charge. We enjoy museums and chose to explore the Museum of Childhood, Museum of Edinburgh and The Writers’ Museum. These were of interest as much for the old town houses in which they are located as for the displays.

We also spent several hours exploring the National Museum of Scotland. There were many interesting galleries in this impressive building although their arrangement appeared somewhat eclectic which added to our entertainment as we pondered why.

 img_20160911_172739   img_20161119_151925346

Writers’ Museum and National Museum of Scotland

We particularly enjoyed the Museum on the Mound which offers a history of money as well as a chance to crack a safe. We failed.

img_20161120_133904814

Who would you like to see on a £20 note?

The most interesting place visited on this trip, and one which we regret not giving more than two hours, were the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, also owned by the Royal College of Surgeons. Avoid the pathology displays if you are inclined to hypochondria, but we found it fascinating.

img_20161118_140817435

In the evenings, as well as eating in the restaurant at our hotel, we enjoyed delicious meals at Howies and Apiary. Each day we walked for miles around the city’s cobbled streets and hidden alleyways, admiring the impressive local architecture and grand buildings.

img_20161121_095334418_hdr

Old College, one of the many university buildings 

The new Scottish Parliament Building with its bizarre modern architecture and eye wateringly expensive construction cost is closed to visitors on a Sunday, the day we had allocated for a tour. We had also been advised to visit The Real Mary King’s Close but ran out of time.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and we feel fortunate that we had only the cold to contend with rather than the wet and windy weather that arrived as we left. There is still much to see and we hope to return.

A City Break in Belfast

I was born and raised in Belfast during the height of The Troubles. When I left in 1988, at the age of twenty-four, it seemed that the ingrained prejudices ran too deep and there could never be peace. The Good Friday agreement was announced a decade later and I questioned if it would hold. How delighted I have been to see the city of my birth emerge from the rubble and ashes of conflict to become a place worth visiting for its history, culture and for the welcome given to visitors by its people.

12541144_10201345338671514_6274164971124785701_n  12647079_10201345338431508_2771079955812721094_n  12549064_10201345338551511_1601726750335822183_n

For my most recent stay, my husband and I checked into the Europa Hotel which is located in Great Victoria Street in the heart of the city. We flew into the International Airport and caught a bus which drops passengers at a terminus just behind this hotel.

Check in was swift and we soon found ourselves in a small but comfortable bedroom, impressively insulated from the sounds of the nightlife below.

12548845_10201345338831518_727902483243823579_n  12573696_10201345341151576_1604808854450477678_n  12549016_10201345340031548_7226657518485729764_n

Of course, we had to sample a little of what was on offer. We enjoyed cocktails in the hotel’s Piano Bar, and then crossed the street to the iconic Crown Bar where we were lucky enough to find an empty booth within which to enjoy a carefully pulled pint of Guinness.

Over the course of our three night stay we ate out at a variety of restaurants: Flame in Howard Street, Deanes Deli Bistro in Bedford Street, and Villa Italia in University Road. In all three the food and ambiance were excellent. The attention to detail in the eclectic decor at Flame and Deanes especially appealed to me. Villa Italia was perfect for the evening my parents joined us.

12642530_10201345340911570_2804137217958821911_n

During the day we were tourists, visiting just a few of the many attractions now available within walking distance of our hotel. For us, the most interesting of these was the Crumlin Road Gaol. Our tour guide was informative and entertaining. My husband was particularly amused by the fact that the official opening of this facility as a visitor attraction was conducted by the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, both of whom are ex-residents. We learned that many famous names have done time behind these walls.

12512565_10201345339591537_6027135405314095956_n  12592330_10201345339791542_4789758584000035665_n

12513556_10201345345911695_3420209919572045394_o  12640239_10201345345871694_1921629800916461887_o  12615184_10201345345831693_5557771895153982610_o

With working class family connections to the linen industry and the shipyard I was keen to visit Titanic Belfast. This attraction was very busy and tells a story I am familiar with but was worth the time just to stand alongside the fabulous building in which it is housed.

12540823_10201345340671564_7657860977165952073_n  12604765_10201345346711715_7701914877643617597_o

As a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast  I was also eager to wander around the University Quarter and explore the changes that have been made to my alma mater over the years. There were many impressive, new additions to admire but I was pleased to once again stand before an unchanged Lanyon building.

12622170_10201345346471709_722930608684622794_o

And finally I got to visit the Linen Hall Library. We could not fit the tour into our schedule so instead enjoyed a short stroll around the stacks. The gallery located in the back stairway was a highlight, as were our brief chats with the informative librarians.

1929968_10201345339431533_3793514369794547284_n  12565418_10201345339071524_2104771469202207710_n  1452_10201345338951521_8697319943944638779_n

12592228_10201345339271529_795353202666449291_n

Ireland may have a reputation for being a tad soggy but the weather was kind to us throughout our stay enabling us to wander at will and enjoy the many changes. New buildings have appeared and old ones unwrapped from their security blankets. It was lovely to see.

As we picked up our luggage, helpfully cared for by the hotel until we were ready to leave, the heavens opened. We bid Belfast a fond farewell and journeyed home bearing the gift requested by our teenagers. However popular artisan crisps may become, it is still hard to beat a bag of the best crisps & snacks in the world.

12541164_10201345439074024_4763187856080724250_n

 

 

Random Musings: Safe spaces

center parcs

I first visited Center Parcs over twenty years ago when my sister’s sons were toddlers. My husband and I drove to the Nottingham site to visit her family as they holidayed there and enjoyed an active couple of days, despite having to sleep in bunk beds. By the time our own children came along a more local facility had been built which provided twin beds and even better swimming areas. It soon became a favourite destination.

As well as the child friendly site with its multiple play areas and largely traffic free roads it felt a safe space for me as an adult. The clientele were of all shapes and sizes, the dress code relaxed. Hanging out by the pool in my swimsuit was never an issue; rolls of flesh and cellulite were on show and nobody seemed to care.

Last weekend we returned to Longleat for what is likely to be this year’s only family holiday. For the first time in the many years we have been visiting I did not feel safe.

During the course of the first day I left the pool area to fetch a forgotten item from our car. Phone reception is poor and I wished to send a text to a friend who was due to visit the next day. As I studied my phone searching for signal I became aware of two young men sitting at a picnic table nearby. They were calling out: ‘Bingo wings. Bingo wings!’ There was nobody else around. For whatever reason they had decided to insult me.

I ignored them which led to a louder, more insistent cry: ‘Fat ass. Oy, fat ass!’ I finally got my text message to send and left the area, briefly making eye contact with the young men as I passed. Later in the day I chanced upon them again. As they walked by they glanced at me and muttered in a derisory tone: ‘Oh god it’s her again’. It would seem that my existence in a public space is an affront to the bright young things who decorate such places so pleasingly.

I do not deny the truth of their observations but wonder why they felt moved to act as they did.

Had this been the extent of my discomfort over the weekend then I would have put it down to an unfortunate but isolated encounter with rudeness. Unfortunately it was only just the start.

The other holiday makers included the usual Boden mums with their beautifully dressed offspring, proud grandmothers accompanying their precious little grandchildren, and a pleasingly diverse array of skin tone and language. There were not, however, the variety of body shapes that I had come to expect. Perhaps the media has succeeded in fat shaming and diets have been adhered to, or perhaps the overweight now holiday elsewhere.

I was subjected to numerous hard stares as I moved around the site, pointed tuts from the grandparents as I took up space they desired for their families. I longed for the ability to levitate as others sought to have me out of their way. Is this because I am now older? fatter? sans children? Gone were the smiles I have previously encountered, the camaraderie of shared experience. Instead I was subjected to irritation and muttered comments for inhabiting public space.

Even at our villa the ambience had changed. Next door there appeared to be a hen party in residence. Our enjoyment of the adorable family of fluffy ducklings that waddled by our window with their proud mama each day was spoiled when a father caught two of the tiny birds for his daughters to stroke. I so hope that his scent on them did not lead to rejection, that the fluffy babies recovered from their trauma. Across the lake I heard angry shouting and banging as a family row erupted that went on and on. It was not the peaceful environment I have come to expect.

Our holiday was still enjoyed. We spent hours by the pool although I stayed clothed and read my book rather than taking to the water with my family. We played many games of badminton, squash and table tennis; went boating on the lake; cycled round and around the site. We ate delicious meals together at a variety of restaurants. I did not, however, feel that I could relax as I could before.

It is hard to quantify why an environment feels safe. Have the other guests changed or have I? If my family wish then it is likely that we will return, perhaps next year. For me though it will be with some trepidation.

 

 

Out of Africa

Browsing through the blogs that I follow this morning I came across the latest instalment in Duncan Swallow’s ‘advice’ series, How not to be killed by a wild buffalo | nobodysreadingme. The memories came flooding back as I remembered the day that I was charged by one of these beasts. Canny readers will have worked out that I survived the experience, but it got me thinking about the various other encounters that I also survived whilst on a memorable trip to Southern Africa in the nineteen eighties.

I had spent the previous summer working on a kibbutz that was located on the Gaza Strip in Israel. Although this was a known trouble spot I was unfazed by the potential threat of bombings or shootings. I had, after all, spent my entire life up to this point living in Belfast during the worst years of The Troubles. The constant army presence was nothing new and I was more intrigued by the fact that young women were required to complete National Service alongside the men. As a feminist this was something that I fully approved of; I wished to be treated as an equal and it just didn’t happen where I came from.

Volunteers on the kibbutz lived in a separate area from the kibbutniks and we partied hard. I learned to drink beer and to smoke cigarettes that summer, habits that I all but gave up as soon as I returned to my homeland but which added to my enjoyment at the time. I encountered my first scorpions and poisonous spiders, and developed an allergic reaction to biting insects which caused liquid blisters the size of saucers to appear on my legs.

The kibbutnik nurses sent me to an off site medical centre for treatment. After a long wait I was seen by a doctor, but I have no idea what he thought because he spoke no English and I had no understanding of any other language. My blisters were opened and my legs bound in gauze. After that the kibbutniks treated me as if I had some sort of plague, which got me out of a lot of the work details I was there to perform.

One of the other volunteers at the kibbutz came from Zimbabwe, but had Irish ancestors and an unfulfilled wish to visit the emerald isle. Being an hospitable Irish person I offered him an open invitation to come stay with me any time he wished. A month or so after I flew home he surprised me somewhat by phoning to say that he was taking me up on my offer.

His timing was perfect. I still lived with my parents at this time, but they had a holiday abroad planned meaning that I had use of my father’s car and did not need to abide by their rules. I borrowed a tent and spent ten days driving around Ireland with this boy, a most scandalous thing to do at the time. We had a fabulous trip and even managed to locate the graves of his long dead relatives. We asked around and found a few people who remembered the family; Ireland proved itself to be the welcoming place it purports to be. My parents were not so impressed when they returned home and discovered what I had been up to in their absence.

Having partaken of my generous hospitality my new found friend reciprocated, telling me that I would be most welcome in Harare any time I chose. I decided this was too good an opportunity to miss, bought a plane ticket, and spent the three week Christmas holiday travelling around Zimbabwe and South Africa with him.

We camped on the borders of Zambia and Mozambique, hitch hiked from city to city, took a lift with a trucker friend into the wilderness; but the most memorable trips were those made to the Zambezi River, and with his family to Victoria Falls. I was seeing wildlife that I knew only from zoos and television documentaries, in their natural habitat.

I wanted to take photographs of everything. When a large spider started bouncing towards me I was delighted. ‘Look! a bouncy spider!’ I cried as I captured the image, whilst those who knew better ran to escape from one of the most poisonous beasts around. Waiting for a lift by the roadside I wandered up to a group of baboons to photograph the cute little babies before my host dragged me away as the enormous, angry looking mother moved in to protect her young; apparently they are killers too. I was not allowed to approach the elephants who came to drink from the motel swimming pool, and was advised against attempting to get close to the hippopotami and crocodiles in the rivers. I did get to hold a baby crocodile at a tourist attraction; it wee’d on me.

I met the buffalo on a trip down the Zambezi River in a small motor boat. The game keeper carefully pointed it out and then became highly agitated when I stood up in order to photograph it better. The beast raised it’s head, then lowered it menacingly, haunches rising, and charged. I was nearly thrown out of the boat, into the crocodile and hippo infested waters, as the gamekeeper enacted a hasty turn and full throttled escape. I was sworn at quite a lot but was more upset that I didn’t manage to capture on my camera that magnificent beast in full charge. At the time I had no concept of the danger to us all.

Needless to say the trip was awesome. I saw a herd of wild zebra running across a plain, flamingos taking flight in formation and slept out in wooded areas surrounded by the sounds of wildlife I could not even name.

Africa was a land of beauty, poverty and huge inequalities. I argued with one of my welcoming and hospitable host families over apartheid and their treatment of the coloured servants who lived in a hut at the end of their garden, required to live away from their families. I slept in a bed that had shotgun damage in the ceiling above and fleas in the sheets. I was fed the most delicious and enormous steak I have ever eaten.

Thirty years later I still remember the sights and sounds of Africa: the colour, the dust, the welcome. It is an awesome place. I am grateful that I was granted enough luck over judgement to survive to tell my tales.

Sun, sea and sand

It was lovely to get away for a few days this week, to enjoy a change of scenery and some down time with my boys. It was also lovely to come home afterwards for a rest. Holidays are fun but exhausting, does that make me sound ungrateful? I am not, I enjoyed our time away immensely. Now though I need to catch up on sleep and on thinking time.

Whilst away I did not manage to read or write, what I got instead was activity and conversation. We made the most of spending time together without our usual distractions. I need to mentally process all of this as I resume the rhythm of my everyday life. My batteries have been successfully recharged, it is now time to move forward.

Booking a few days on the coast in February was always going to be risky weather wise. After the storms and floods of recent weeks I did wonder how we would cope if we were confined to our hotel by the elements. In the event we were lucky and spent much of our time away walking and enjoying the long, sandy beaches and promenades in glorious sunshine.

1970419_3996762293520_1454556608_n

The south coast of England is a popular place for retirees as well as holidaymakers. As I do not like crowds I tend to avoid the more built up areas. On one of our walks this week we ended up in Bournemouth and I was reminded why. It was my husband who accurately noted that the irritations of walking through noisy, crowded streets filled with slow moving pedestrians left us feeling more drained than the five mile walk to get there. We were happy to return to the tranquility of the peninsula where our hotel was located.

My daughter had chosen to stay at home so I had my three boys for company. They made good use of the hotel facilities with my elder son joining my husband in the gym while my younger son braved the cold to swim outside despite the wind and evening rain.

1932281_3993089281697_553875685_n

It was accepted that I wished to relax at times, even though I could not find sufficient time to write coherently. I have come home with a notebook filled with words which I hope I will be able to use in subsequent posts. I have so many plans and ideas swirling around in my head. I feel mentally replenished.

I also feel physically over fed. The food was delicious and plentiful, there seemed little point in not indulging while I had the opportunity. My husband and elder son were particularly appreciative of the various chefs’ skills and I will review our restaurant experiences in other posts. Suffice to say here that these were highlights of the trip.

How different this was to previous experiences of eating out when my children were younger. I wonder if my own lack of imagination and skill in the kitchen at home has resulted in a family who can value variety of taste and presentation when it is offered. Even my younger son was willing to try new dishes on this trip. Our evening’s out were enjoyed by all.

We returned home to a daughter who had made good use of having a house to herself. Friends had been round, food of choice cooked, but she had not forgotten to care for our hens or carry out the other few tasks I had left for her. I missed her company but am happy to see her cope responsibly with independence.

I now have a weekend to get the house in order, deal with laundry and indulge my own needs. We also have the third season of Game of Thrones to finish. If we have time this evening then we will watch the final two episodes. I have been warned about the Red Wedding already.

A weekend away

I am currently enjoying the cosy warmth of a small, woodland lodge with my elder two children. Outside our window is a lake where a number of ducks appear to be revelling in the rain. They are the only ones doing so. Since we set off from our home yesterday morning the weather has been utterly foul.

Thankfully we are on a site where there is plenty to do whatever the weather. Our current inactivity is the result of a need to prepare for exams rather than a lack of attractive alternatives. As I write this my children are discussing ‘A’ level physics, not a conversation I am capable of usefully contributing to. My husband and younger son have escaped to the swimming complex for the afternoon.

As well as the lake and the ducks I can admire our very wet bicycles, securely locked up outside our lodge. Early last week my husband suggested that, given the unfriendly weather forecast for the time we were planning on being away, we should leave our bicycles at home. The children were having none of it. Since they were toddlers we have been coming to Center Parcs for regular, family holidays and we have always travelled around the site on our bicycles. It is a part of the holiday that they enjoy.

Thus, yesterday morning, my husband was up bright and early attaching racks and bicycles to the roof of our car. He then faced the challenge of driving a much heightened vehicle through the increasingly wet and windy conditions to get us to our destination. On arrival we where greeted by a thunderstorm and hailstones the size of golf balls. I kid you not. I have never seen anything like it.

We beat a hasty retreat to the swimming complex and had a most enjoyable few hours making good use of the various flumes and pools. Well, the rest of the family did this. I sat and read my book with a warming cup of coffee. Much as I like to swim I am not a leisure pool person. I prefer to swim up and down, counting length after length, before relaxing in a hot jacuzzi. Such things are not possible here where the pools are filled with families having fun with floats and other water toys.

I was, however, happy with my book and my coffee; watching the rain through the glass domed roof; handing out snacks as hungry family members randomly appeared in need of nourishment. It was dark by the time we were ready to make our way to the accommodation.

While I unpacked our belongings and prepared our lodge for a few days stay my husband unloaded the sodden bikes, slipping down a hidden gully as he wrestled them off the high roof of our MPV. Of the two pairs of trousers that he brought for the weekend, one pair is now impressively coated in mud. The air was less impressively filled with his exclamations at this turn of events. I hope that no young children were within earshot at the time.

The bikes are now likely to remain locked outside our lodge until it is time to load them onto the roof of the car again at the end of our short stay. The rain is not forecast to stop. I think perhaps we should have left them at home as was suggested.

One of the down sides of bad weather on a site like this is that it drives everyone inside. The sports hall was packed this morning when we walked down to book some activities; perhaps it is as well that there is school work to complete this afternoon. Tomorrow we will enjoy an afternoon of table tennis, badminton and squash, but there are only so many of these sports that we wish to play in the short space of time available.

It is interesting to note how the demands of the family change over time. When they were little we would book the children into craft workshops. As they got older they tried the challenge activities available such as archery, climbing and abseiling. These days they are more interested in racquet sports or, if the weather would only allow, walks and cycle rides. They are just as capable as they ever were of growing bored.

Personally I do not consider boredom to be a bad thing. If entertainment is constantly provided by others then one never learns how to explore alternatives for oneself. My children are certainly old enough to be working out what they enjoy. I have so many things that I wish to do that free time is never wasted.

For me then a good holiday is one where we can spend time doing things together, where we can enjoy the camaraderie as much as the activity; and some time when we can simply relax and enjoy whatever we choose to do as individuals. It will be unfortunate if the weather restricts our options too much. It is also rather a shame that the WiFi connections available are so limited; I think that is proving to be frustrating for us all.

When they were younger I would severely restrict my children’s screen time, but these days I am much more lax. They have been offered the option to try a huge variety of sports and activities over the years. If what they now choose to do when on holiday requires electronic equipment then I feel I must, to a certain degree, accept that decision. I can hardly complain when I too choose to log on. Holidays are a time to indulge in the things which we enjoy, and I am as much an internet addict as anyone.

P1010857

Family time

We are half way through the autumn half term break from school. My husband has taken the week off work and wanted to go away for a few days but nothing was sorted so we have spent the time at home. Given the recent weather here in the south of England I am fine with this arrangement.

The forecast storm last weekend came and went with the only casualties we saw being a littering of leaves in our garden and a missing ping pong table cover that later turned up in a side alley. Lying warm and cosy in bed, listening to the rain on the window panes and the wind whistling through the trees, was actually quite comforting. I appreciated once again the luxury of being safe and warm in my own home. Too many these days are not so lucky.

My daughter had made many plans for this holiday week so we ate out as a family on one of the few nights when we were all free. We opted for the informal, relaxed atmosphere of our local Pizza Express and were not disappointed. Sometimes the company and ambience matter more than the food, and I do still enjoy eating pizza, despite my advanced age!

The morning after the storm that never really happened, my husband set out to deliver our daughter to the first of her many appointments: a three day private gathering of her writer friends to critique, encourage and continue with their respective stories in a sociable but intensive environment. With our resident vegetarian away we decided to treat my younger son to a meal at one of his favoured eateries. He enjoys a freshly made, thick and meaty burger with ketchup and chunky chips far more than any fine dining experience. I tried one myself and it was satisfyingly tasty.

Alongside these outings, my boys and I have been working on the finishing touches to my daughter’s Loki costume. We have still to create the helmet though; it is proving particularly tricky to make. Today, both she and my younger son have arranged to attend the opening of Thor: The Dark World with friends. The rest of us will probably wait for the release of the DVD, by which time we will undoubtedly have picked up the majority of the plot from other sources.

All of this activity and it is not yet Halloween. For me, it has been a good holiday thus far. I have managed to find plenty of opportunities to read and write as well as spending time with my little family. There has been no pressure to perform and plenty of treats along the way. Had we left home for a few days it is unlikely that I would have felt so relaxed.

I would also have had to leave a poorly hen. My little flock have now completed their winter worming week and are, once again, wandering free in the wider garden by day. One of my older ladies is looking unhappy though. She is moulting, which doesn’t help, but is also moving with the slow gait of an unhappy hen. With no other outward signs of problems it may just be old age; I am glad that I am here to keep an eye on her.

I can understand why some animals hibernate. When the temperatures drop I find it comforting to wrap up warm and snuggle down indoors. I enjoy the long, dark evenings when the curtains are drawn and the lamps have been lit. I feel content to relax in my armchair, feet up with a good book.

And still we have half the holiday left. There are jobs to complete around the house and garden, but no sense of urgency. I am keen to maintain this contented atmosphere, to allow the days to flow with just the occasional highlight to draw us together.

Family time is so fleeting and precious. ‘This is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it.’    

P1010796

Camping highlights and challenges

When an event or activity is planned I gain enjoyment from the anticipation, participation and reminiscence. These are just a few of the highlights from our recent camping trip that I will look back on with pleasure.

  • Sunny days, balmy nights, and the gentle lullaby of light rain on the tent as we tried to sleep.
  • A quiet and peaceful site, mercifully free of the large groups who chat and laugh into the night as others yearn for sleep.
  • Elder son wandering the dry and dusty field around our tent barefoot until his feet resembled those of a hobbit.
  • Cycling out to the neighbouring airfield to watch the model plane enthusiasts flying their crafts, then on through the forest to pick up the day’s groceries, buy cooling ice creams and watch the trains.
  • The warmth of the sun as the rays slowly darkened our skin tone as the week progressed.
  • Time to read books and magazines, practise circus skills, learn new card tricks.
  • Shopping for teddy bears in a nearby town then setting up elaborate photo shoots to post on Edward Gainsborough – Teddy Bear‘s Facebook page when we returned home.
  • Hot showers each morning, cold wine each evening.
  • Shared time together without the distractions of the plethora of electronic media that entertain us whilst at home.

Of course, not everything went to plan. These are just a few of the misadventures that we survived.

  • Our newly purchased mallet snapped as we tried to hammer tent pegs into the sun baked ground making putting up the tent securely a challenge.
  • Unable to keep anything cold through the warm and sunny days, our butter turned to liquid covering everything in our not so cool box with grease and forcing us to manage without this tasty topping for the remainder of the holiday.
  • A leaky air bed that partially deflated each night leaving the occupant tired and achy, although mercifully not grumpy.
  • A herd of New Forest ponies stampeding through the campsite as we ate our breakfast one morning – scary!
  • An attempt to brew a refreshing cup of tea became an exercise in quick reactions when our small stove caught fire (gas cylinder not correctly connected) within a couple of feet of our tent. This one could have been a disaster…

We cycled as a means of transport but had difficulty persuading younger son to walk in the beautiful countryside that surrounded our campsite and was a major reason for choosing this location. In an effort to spend a day that would please him we paid for entrance to the nearby National Motor Museum. He enjoyed the extensive collection of cars but became difficult once again when we insisted on exploring the abbey and house as well. His intransigence was all the harder to bear as normally we eschew expensive visitor attractions, making use instead of the beautiful locations that are available for free to those who will seek them out. We were not impressed by his attitude.

With the ups and downs of the trip, five days was probably just a little too long to be away. Too many requests were ignored by our teenagers, too many refusals to compromise and fit in with what others wanted from their time away.

There was, however, also a feeling of togetherness that is all but impossible to achieve at home where personal space is plentiful and distractions tailored to suit each individual. We took time out of our everyday lives to share a back to basics experience. As time passes we will remember the positives with pleasure and come to laugh ruefully at the negatives. My children are growing older; I will value all of the time that I can share with them before their inevitable moving away, that will be all too soon coming.

1014031_640901439262958_366178213_n

Family camping

We first went camping as a family around five years ago. The children had all experienced life under canvas on weekends away with their various Scout groups where they seemed to enjoy the adventure. My husband was keen to get away from home more frequently and saw camping as an affordable way to achieve this. I had camped with friends when I was in my late teens and early twenties but not since. I was unsure if I would be able to cope with the privations.

For our first foray we purchased a small, cheap tent and portable gas stove but little else. We made do with the basic sleeping bags and ground mats that we already owned and sat where we could to eat and chat. We had booked ourselves into a campsite recommended by friends for two nights but extended this to three when we discovered that we were enjoying ourselves. Despite the crowds, inadequate facilities and dodgy weather we had fun.

After that first trip we realised that we would need to purchase more equipment if we were to cope for longer than a few days but, buoyed by our positive experience, were willing to make the investment. Airbeds, folding chairs and a larger stove were ordered; camping review sites diligently searched; bookings at locations offering hot showers and the potential for good, local walks made.

Camping worked for us because we could live as a team. Despite the lack of comfort and a decent night’s sleep we all shared the daily tasks. Cooking and washing up became enjoyable activities as did the long walks and cycle rides that filled our days. We coped with the wind, rain and amenities shared with strangers with good humour. Eventually we ordered a larger tent, travelled further afield and camped for a week at a time. The discomfort was outweighed by the enjoyment and closeness achieved by the family unit.

Last summer the weather was persistently cold and wet in the weeks when we could have gone away so we opted to make a last minute booking at a cottage rather than use our tent. This holiday was not considered to be a success. It was decided that we should return to life under canvas this year if the weather made such a prospect at all desirable. When July was forecast to be warm and sunny, and it looked as if this might actually prove to be true, a booking at one of our favourite campsites was made.

The weather last week was the best we have ever camped in, but we discovered that the dynamic of the family has changed since our last comparable trip away. My youngest son is no longer willing to go on the long walks and cycle rides that the rest of us enjoy; in the last couple of years he has become grumpy and increasingly intransigent. Neither of my boys showed any interest in cooking so this was left to my husband as I am wary of cooking on a naked flame. The washing up was shared by all, but only with much persuasion.

The holiday was enjoyable but not in the way it used to be as we no longer worked as a team for the good of all. Neither my husband nor I felt able to relax as we could before. The boys did not seem interested in amusing themselves for long yet showed little enthusiasm for the activities that we suggested. A great deal of effort was required on our part before anything could be achieved.

I cannot help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end of family holidays; it would seem that we are all looking for something different in our time away from home. We have enough happy memories and experiences from the last week to have made it worthwhile, but I am unsure if we will do it again. We went on no long walks, and days out required expenditure that had not been necessary on previous excursions.

I am not surprised that my children are developing their own preferences and interests; it is only natural that they should do so. I can see that they gain more pleasure from time spent with friends and perhaps they will opt to go away with them more often than with us. Perhaps they will be as happy to simply stay at home.

We have packed away our tent and do not expect to use it again this year; I wonder when it will next be taken out of storage. It feels like the end of an era and this makes me rather sad. My husband and I are now discussing a possible night away without the boys. If what we enjoy doing with our free time does not mesh with their desires then perhaps it will be better to allow each to pursue adventure on their own.

This trip was the first that we had made without my daughter which, perhaps, made some difference. I will not write off the possibility of a future family camping trip just yet. If one is to be attempted though, the ground rules will have to be agreed by all before we venture forth.

1009801_3303698207351_1222835237_n